Sundance 2014 Review: The End of the Tour

The End of the Tour

Director: James Ponsoldt

Writers: David Lipsky (book), Donald Margulies

Stars: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Chlumsky

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According to a post-film Q & A, as a college student, director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) admired the concept of the tortured artist. As the years went on, and he knew friends who struggled with depression and in some cases took their own lives, he came to re-evaluate his stance on the matter. The End of the Tour is his attempt to rectify the idea he once romanticized.

As such, he chooses to examine a brief period in the life of acclaimed author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) who committed suicide in 2008.

The film begins with writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) learning of Wallace’s suicide. His reflections on his and Wallace’s friendship lead the viewer back to 1995, when Wallace had finally hit the literary scene in a major way with his novel Infinite Jest. As an aspiring writer for Rolling Stone, and a relatively unsuccessful author, Lipsky becomes fascinated with both Wallace and his novel. Before long, he finds himself engaged to complete the remainder of Wallace’s nationwide book tour with him, and to attempt to understand what makes the man tick. What ensues is an odd sort of friendship defined by two men’s mutual respect and envy for what the other has. Over the span of the weekend both men must look deep into themselves to decide who they truly want to be.

Jason Segel, known for his comedic roles, has nonetheless shown strong dramatic chops before in films like 2012’s Jeff Who Lives at Home. Here, he is on another level entirely from anything he has ever done before. He completely inhabits Wallace, showcasing his quirks, his vulnerability, and balances man’s intellect and charm with a heavy awkwardness. His hushed voice and restrained temper feel completely natural, and though the film takes place well before Wallace’s suicide, his character exudes tragedy.

Eisenberg delivers maybe his best performance to date, showcasing a character who is both slimy and manipulative and yet also sympathetic. His is a more subtle role, but he plays off wonderfully from Segel. The two fight back and forth stealing the screen from one another.

The film’s direction is simple, never flashy. Ponsoldt maintains a deliberate pace, delivering a dialogue driven film that evokes Linklater’s Before trilogy. The film is one to be savored and enjoyed, full of Wallace’s philosophical introspection. Each scene reveals something new about both men. For some, the pacing may be too slow. This is a film that is all about two men and what they have to say. For fans of Wallace, what more could be asked for?

Danny Elfman’s score, used sparingly but effectively is some of the best work he has done in years. It evokes Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross or Arcade Fire’s Her score more than any of Elfman’s previous work.

The film is simple, but philosophically fascinating, a slightly more eventual ‘My Dinner with Andre,’ if you will. If you allow the tour to take hold, it will bring laughter, melancholy, and plenty of philosophical food for thought. In short, it is a Tour well worth taking.

A-

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